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Mon, July 22

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Racing industry seeks changes to Arizona law

Arizona's horse and dog racing industries are seeking a new law that would increase betting opportunities in one way and decrease them in another.

One provision of House Bill 2694 would allow people at off-track betting sites to bet on races they can't watch.

For example, some people like to bet on high-stakes "National Pick 4" races, but Yavapai Downs cannot always show all four races, Yavapai County Fair Association General Manager Jim Grundy explained. Others like to bet on races at a track that doesn't televise them, then go home and watch them on the TVG Network, he said.

A second provision would make it clear that people cannot bet on Arizona races via Internet or telephone account wagering. It would make such bets felonies.

Tracks, horse owners and jockeys depend on betting revenues but don't get a cut of Internet and phone bets, Grundy explained.

Arizona Rep. Lucy Mason, R-Prescott, is sponsoring the legislation for the racing industry, and Legislative District One's other legislators have signed onto it.

Arizona has a total of three horse and two dog commercial racetracks, including the non-profit Yavapai County Fair Association that owns and operates the Yavapai Downs horseracing track on the northeast side of Prescott Valley.

"We're just trying to do what's good for the industry," said Randy Fozzard, racing operations manager at Yavapai Downs who helped draft the legislation.

The racing industry has tried to get these changes into law in the past, but previous bills had more provisions and some legislators believed the bills expanded gambling too much, Fozzard said.

This year's bill has made it through the House Water, Agriculture and Energy Committee that Mason chairs.

"So far, I don't know of any opposition because it's not an expansion of gambling in any way," Grundy said of the Legislature. "It's pretty simple."

However, the Arizona Department of Racing opposes the bill for the same reason it opposed the broader bills in the past, Director Geoffrey Gonsher said.

"There's no money to help us regulate increased wagering," Gonsher said.

The department doesn't have enough money to regulate off-track betting (OTB) sites properly now, and the legislation would increase OTB, Gonsher said.

The department has revoked and suspended several OTB sites' licenses because employees failed to disclose criminal histories, and it has turned over several cases involving allegations of internal OTB theft and corruption to police agencies in the Phoenix area, Gonsher said.

These problems also led the department to oppose new OTB sites until it gets more money to regulate them, he said.

Because of tax exemptions and credits for the racing industry, Turf Paradise currently is the only track even paying taxes to the state, and that money goes to the general fund, Gonsher said.

He'd like to sit down with industry representatives and work out a way to redistribute the approximately $2.6 million in annual unclaimed winnings that now go entirely to the track owners. The Racing Department would like to get about five percent of that to regulate OTB sites, he said.

"These commercial tracks are not hurting financially," he added, noting that Yavapai Downs is unusual because a non-profit runs it.

A third provision of HB2694 would eliminate the second step in the transmission of wagers so that wagers would go directly to the track that conducts the live race.

This "double hop" sometimes delays bets long enough to void them, Grundy said.

That provision has poor wording and opens up new holes, Gonsher said.

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